Really quite astonishing in its ability to navigate the "confessional" and the political-historical. Despairing & horny & fantastically funnyReally quite astonishing in its ability to navigate the "confessional" and the political-historical. Despairing & horny & fantastically funny at moments. I'm not going to excuse Berryman's racist minstrelcy, though. "Blah blah, he's mocking the id" or "No! You don't get it, he *appreciates* African-American vernacular!" It's like this weird anti-politically correct political correctness; as though the very possibility of acknowledging blackface as racism is mannerless and "the" problem. Berryman's good; but no need to feel like calling his minstrel voice racist will forever discount him as a poet. Look at Eliot & Pound! Still goin' strong....more
Seems most people find the first half of this book tediously chic, trying-too-hard, so on and so forth--and then fall in love with the "heart" of theSeems most people find the first half of this book tediously chic, trying-too-hard, so on and so forth--and then fall in love with the "heart" of the latter half.
Well, screw ya'll. I liked both halves of the book, but I'll confess that I was more taken with the screwball bizarrity of the first several chapters (particularly with the kleptomaniac and the strange punk band kids, and that creepy music mogul) than the borderline sentimentality of some of the late sections. That said, this is a wonderful read; really really fun, engaging. I don't usually think of Pulitzer winners as page-turners, but except for the fact that I was in the midst of a busy semester, I wouldn't have set this one down. Egan's style is sharp and funny, though I agree that there are moments where it begins to feel a little bit twee in its self-reflexivity, its "hipness." Generally, though, I found it exciting rather than cheap, honest--she's especially deft with dialogue--rather than artificial in its attempt to portray the contemporary human condition, or whatever tripe they're selling us these days.
If you're one of those, though, who hates the first few chapters, just stick with it. Like I said, everyone I know couldn't stomach the novel until the end and then loved it. I just loved it....more
Look, I liked it, ok? Sort of pretty; sort of odd (particularly that runaway girl!). But come on. Do the comparisons to Woolf really carry any water?Look, I liked it, ok? Sort of pretty; sort of odd (particularly that runaway girl!). But come on. Do the comparisons to Woolf really carry any water?
Sorry, still feeling bitter about the class discussion we had around this novel. There's a wedding a comin'! It's in the South! There's a freakin' HUGE southern familial dynasty. You may as well not even bother trying to keep the family members straight. For some reason, we're supposed to buy that George is heroic and, like, noble and masculine or whatever. I think he seems pretty douchey, and because his wife Robbie also grated on my nerves, they can stick it out to the end for all I care. Dabney, the bride-to-be, may as well be Gretchen Weiners from "Mean Girls." She definitely seems to believe that getting married is the equivalent to having a father who invented the Toaster Strudel. If the little girl, Laura, had a bigger presence in the novel, I likely would have cared more about her. And Ellen seems to be the real Woolf carry-over here--she's a Mrs. Ramsay type--but I'd more likely re-read To the Lighthouse, so...there we are.
God, I'm really a bitch. I did enjoy this. I just wanted to scream when I had to talk about it with other people who were so invested in some antiquated notion of the "feminine" (read: 'domestic'; 'decorative'; 'detail-oriented') voice in literature that I'm having a lot of trouble writing a fair review.
Oh, also. It could easily have been half its length. And that's not a phrase you'll hear from me often, if you catch my drift, nyuk nyuk!...more
I won't lie. I skimmed the last 100 pages because I'm overwhelmed with my teaching duties this term. Nevertheless, it's still sitting on the top of myI won't lie. I skimmed the last 100 pages because I'm overwhelmed with my teaching duties this term. Nevertheless, it's still sitting on the top of my bookshelf, meaning that I'll at least pretend I'm going to thoroughly engage with those 100 pages in the near future. More likely, I'll continue wading through my other semester-books and pick up a few pleasure reads when I can, instead, but it's the thought that counts, yes?
The 300+ pages I *did* read were just fantastic. Warren could probably be a bit more economical with his prose, and there were some detours in the narrative that could have been left unsaid, but how can you not love a political novel that's primarily interested in the kind of psychological responses to the gap between "The Law" and "Justice"? The characters are just terrible little shits, but watching them maneuver in a dirtied chessboard is thrilling. ...more
My prof attempted to make a case for this as one of the true underrated "major" works of 20th century American fiction. I'll tell you what: I don't buMy prof attempted to make a case for this as one of the true underrated "major" works of 20th century American fiction. I'll tell you what: I don't buy that at all, but it wasn't a horrible way to spend three or four hours. Just ultimately seemed to me like a somewhat Lifetime movie-of-the-week or L&O: SVU approach to a Faulkner-esque tragedy. So there we are....more
An engrossing glimpse into the wild lives of rocker (well, we'll come back to this) Patti Smith and her photographer friend/lover/soulmate Robert MappAn engrossing glimpse into the wild lives of rocker (well, we'll come back to this) Patti Smith and her photographer friend/lover/soulmate Robert Mapplethorpe. You probably don't need to hear about them as public entities, since both are more or less iconic in the American cultural imagination at this point.
Particularly interesting for this narrative of development are the pitstops or the alternatives presented over and against what Smith and Mapplethorpe eventually become. Smith remembers herself here as first and foremost a poet with painterly inclinations; rock & roll (for which she's now a kind of Godmother, along with Joplin, who makes a couple of cameos in Just Kids) appears as a happy accident--a way to engage drunk people with her words, or at least to distract them from throwing things at and harassing her at divey New York bars. Mapplethorpe paints and collages for 2/3rds of the journey of this book. He hustles, too, in what seems to be an attempt to justify his sexual identity as something enjoyed only for the money of it. Or at any rate, that's how Smith believes hustling operates for him.
So you don't get a great deal of the Icons Smith & Mapplethorpe. This is very much the 'rags' portion of the fairytale on the way to riches. A number of those who'd already made it--Andy Warhol, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and so on and so on--make wonderful anecdotal forays through their lives. Jimi admits to Patti that he's actually quite shy, as she hides outside a party she's terrified to enter. Grace Slick snubs Smith in Max's (apparently, the bar the Factory kids made their own); Smith sings a song to Joplin; etc, etc. Interestingly, these moments always strike one as a kind of bizarro mundanity. Smith is often awed, but in an Alice in Wonderland fashion, where the guest stars are living their lives and Smith has just so happened to fall into their particular rabbit hole. In other words, this isn't some skeezy namedropping memoir.
It is, though, tender and humble, raw and (what seems to me, someone born nearly two decades after the main thrust of the narrative) very much 'of its time.' Hindsight and so forth. Smith suggests that no one seemed to be much aware of the fact that they were in a memorable "time", and in fact, it's that obliviousness that makes the memoir so enjoyable in many ways. Or rather, gives it the sense of immediacy and anxiety and joy that sets it apart from any celeb memoir I've read.
You don't need me recommendation, though. I'm certain you've heard the many accolades thrown at it, and all that jazz. It's not a perfect book, but it's certainly worth the couple of breathless sittings you'll spend with it....more
"The Line of Beauty" this ain't. But I don't actually think it sets out to be that novel, despite critics' willingness to hold Hollinghurst's last nov"The Line of Beauty" this ain't. But I don't actually think it sets out to be that novel, despite critics' willingness to hold Hollinghurst's last novel as the ultimate yardstick for judging this one (and contemporary gay fiction more generally). There are some resonances between them, particularly an obsession with gay history/historiography, but this is not a novel about struggling with one's sexual identity-and it's also not a novel about the seismic shift that occurred with the onset of the AIDS pandemic.
At the center of the novel (which is comprised of five narratives/five time periods) is Cecil Valance, a kind of Wilfred Owen, tragic-poet figure. Everyone wants to fuck Cecil, and I'll confess that he comes off as highly fuckable. If you don't sleep with him or want to, you want to make an icon of him. Part romance, part biography, part meta-narrative about literary criticism, the novel traverses time and genre easily largely through keeping Cecil as the fulcrum of each tale. I suppose I do see "Brideshead." I do see "Maurice." I do see "Atonement." But the first two have become unavoidable literary pillars for gay fiction, particularly for a certain period and certain class in British history. I think anyone can hear "Atonement" in a period drama that features a precocious, sexually awakening young girl.
There are echoes, then, in this novel, but Hollinghurst's novel ultimately feels more like a comment on those echoes and how one grapples with a history that implicates you but isn't your own. It's often tragic, frequently beautiful, and certainly a page-turning sort of read. He has that knack for being both literary and addictive. Docked a star, though, because the separation between the five narratives felt at times a bit too tidy, in such a way that it nearly felt like five short novels rather than one coherent one. If this is your first Hollinghurst go to "Line of Beauty" instead, but this is certainly worth your while if you've already enjoyed his work....more
You really can't go wrong with Atwood, though I must confess that I found the book a bit uneven in quality. The long essays at the beginning of the boYou really can't go wrong with Atwood, though I must confess that I found the book a bit uneven in quality. The long essays at the beginning of the book were fascinating inasmuch as they attempted to blueprint Atwood's own relationship with the genre questions surrounding SF and speculative fiction, etc., but perhaps didn't follow through on their promises in any thorough way. She states up front that the book is not intended to be comprehensive, exhaustive, or even particularly academic, but I think to a point, the long essays themselves set up that sort of a tone and then don't necessarily answer or truly engage with some of their fundamental questions. I also would have loved a bit more on the writing process: Atwood teases us with a few scintillating details about Handmaid's Tale, Oryx & Crake, and Year of the Flood, but then breezes right through those sections, as though they don't actually have a great deal of importance for outlining her understanding of genre-boundaries (or lack thereof).
I have to say that the mini-stories at the end were basically throwaways. The best of the bunch was the excerpt from The Blind Assassin but that was also, as far as I know, the only one culled from earlier work. The really fascinating portion of the book was the one that collected reviews of other works, introductions, short essays on authors like Swift, H.G. Wells, Ursula Leguin, and so forth. Seems to me that these are the places where one really begins to recognize the questions Atwood seems most invested in in genre fiction, and how other authors and works have shaped her relation to those questions. Those were the moments where I really felt I was able to pick her brain on the topic at hand, to use a shitty but somewhat related pun. I also felt lucky enough to be able to put together another mini-reading list from the works discussed there.
Oh! Last but not least! The artwork is really fantastic. Childhood drawings and other miscellany. You'd think that would be just a silly tangent, but I loved accessing those as another sort of insight into Atwood's art-process. Any rate, the middle section of the book is basically worth the price of admission alone, but do read it in its entirety. Maybe there'll be a follow-up one day!...more
I should confess up front that I have never read The Berlin Stories, nor have I even seen Cabaret. Blasphemer! The ultimate bad gay!
...but I do likeI should confess up front that I have never read The Berlin Stories, nor have I even seen Cabaret. Blasphemer! The ultimate bad gay!
...but I do like Isherwood? Or at any rate I loved A Single Man (novel & film!). I was a bit baffled to see so many reviews here note that reading about the writing of The Berlin Stories was tedious, because I actually found Isherwood's reflective, sometimes nostalgic relationship to his own earlier writing endlessly fascinating, particularly in the sense of his comments about self-censoring and the ways in which he felt his sight about the situations he was narrating appears so limited in hindsight. More interesting was Isherwood's hazy delineation between the writing-I and "Christopher," as he frequently referred to his past self/selves. Recently I read Edmund White's "City Boy," where he has no interest in a kind of metatextual consideration of identity--memoir writing should be founded on fact and authenticity to White's mind; on the other hand, Isherwood/"I"/"Christopher" seems almost to eroticize his relationship with his past, and clearly believes that there can't be an objective relationship between the self and the world that the self experiences, because we are not transparent to ourselves, and our understanding of our social being necessitates far too many subjective filters. Despite White's protestations, I found Isherwood's notion of memoir writing far more truthful and nuanced.
All that said, the memoir is also incredibly fun to read. It covers his major Berlin years--basically, from when he went there at the end of the 20s until he decided to sail for America at the end of the 30s. We see his love affairs, his novel-writing, his "slumming," his experience with the Hirschfield Institute. There's a great deal of his passionate friendship with Auden, and Stephen Spender and the Woolfs and Thomas Mann and his daughter all wriggle in and out of the narrative here. Obvs the rise of European fascism (well, mainly Hitler) casts a broad shadow over Isherwood's time in Germany. There's a terror to this tale that recalls V Woolf's journals and letters--also, Between the Acts, her final novel and the one most anxious about the oncoming War. Isherwood is a quite exciting prose writer, too: even in mundane sections, nothing seems to drag, as he's constantly tossing a witticism or a strange anecdote or a viciously honest comment on himself in. This was my first of a journey into the "gay memoir" (well, gay male memoir--for whatever reason, I have, like, a pretty solid history with lesbian fiction, but almost none with the tradition of My People??), and I couldn't be more glad to have it as the initial touchstone, though I imagine using it as my yardstick may be a bit overreaching. We shall see......more
How on god's green earth hadn't I picked this up before? A girl I worked with and took classes with in college wrote her senior thesis on Porter's 'feHow on god's green earth hadn't I picked this up before? A girl I worked with and took classes with in college wrote her senior thesis on Porter's 'feminist' revisions of Faulkner, but I suppose I was so busy with my own thesis & worries about grad school that I didn't pick her up at that time and simply forgot about her until forced to read these three short novels (not "novellas", says Porter!) for a seminar last month. Books remain neglected on my shelves for years & years and nothing is better than to find myself in a state of wonder when finally meeting one as lovely as this.
"Old Mortality" and "Pale Horse Pale Rider" are at least tenuously connected by Miranda, a central character in each. As I recall, there's no tangible evidence that they're the same Miranda, but I think it's more interesting to consider them as such than not to. The first is a kind of coming-of-age tale; two young Southern girls confront their dynastic histories, particularly w/r/t a sexually non-conformist aunt, who was both beloved and despised by her family, and who met a tragic end that seems to have tidied her excesses enough to make her palatable for the 'dark romance' that surrounds her by the time the girls begin hearing stories about her. It seems too easy to suggest that the story transitions from a romanticized nostalgia to jaded realism, when so much of the story appears invested in the meta-politics of tale telling, to boot. Which story can be trusted when imagining the past? Seems to me to be a persistent anxiety in Southern literature, perhaps because of the fraught relationship Southerners have with their own not-so-far past.
"PH, PR" follows Miranda yet again, though now we're in the trenches of WWI and facing an influenza epidemic. Both of these terrors become integral to Miranda's story, for she's being hounded by nationalistic bondsmen and dating a soldier who feels as wary of the 'patriotism' of war as she does. Miranda moreover contracts the flu, and so a great deal of the short novel is in fact hazily stream-of-consciousness, though oddly more Woolf in flavor than Porter's more proximate contemporary, Faulkner. The prose in any case is stunning--do try not to become teary-eyed in those final paragraphs. Though Miranda and her soldier-lover remain fairly shadowy in terms of conventional character development (we learn really nothing of what has come before; only of the ways in which they grapple their presents), there's something quite delicious in this alienation, as though to be trapped in one's present-tense becomes a kind of self-distancing, a disorientation. To live entirely in the moment means, also, to have no past and no future, and, therefore, no coherent sense of stable selfhood. For what is identity except a kind of consistency or development across space and time? So the amputee sort of sensation becomes mirrored for the reader (or for me, I suppose) even as it's played out in Miranda and Adam. A stunning tale, really.
"Noon Wine" merits attention as well, though personally, it seemed somewhat out of place sandwiched between the others. If "PHPR" is somewhat Woolfian and "Old Mortality" feels something like a strange union between Faulkner and Edith Wharton, "Noon Wine" is Flannery O'Connor through and through. Of course, Porter, in point of fact, predates O'Connor, but I didn't think the story would have been out of place in Everything That Rises Must Converge. The end certainly has a kind of shock value in the best possible way, and the buildup instills a sense of lazy indifference, much as O'Connor will set you up so persistently in the mundane only to then demonstrate how fragile any stability in this world will necessarily be.
If you've any interest in Southern literature, read these. Now. Do it! I'm looking forward to working through more Porter, though I hear Ship of Fools is something of a failure. Might read that one next anyhow, if only because I'm curious to figure out why Mad Men has Betty Draper reading it on two separate occasions in the show....more
An ingenious little novel told from the vantage point of a little boy who's never been beyond the bounds of a single room. I think that's obvious fromAn ingenious little novel told from the vantage point of a little boy who's never been beyond the bounds of a single room. I think that's obvious from the goodreads summary, though. I've really never read anything like it; I think perhaps the closest narrative comparison I'd have is Henry James's "What Maisie Knew"--in this, a little girl similarly attempts to understand the adult happenings (divorces, fucks, love affairs, etc.) going on around her and out of her control or articulability--but then, I didn't like that James novel and I ate this one up in two sittings. (Sidenote: I always really want to like James, and for some reason I keep reading *about* him, but I just can't seem to wrap my affections around him. What novel will sell me?)
I don't know to what extent "SPOILERS" are applicable here--certainly it's a page turner at points, & I wouldn't want to ruin that. I suppose what I'll say is that the novel is meticulously narrated, wonderfully human, horrifying and tender. I suppose if you have a weak stomach--or if you're one of those sad people who cries when people post cute cat/baby combination memes on Pinterest or whatever--you may not be able to handle this. But it seems to me a fascinating sort of sore thumb in the contemporary fiction landscape. I'll definitely keep Donoghue on my short list for the to-read pile....more